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Martinez property at pre-recession levels

An aerial view of Martinez, California. (WIKI COMMONS)
An aerial view of Martinez, California. (WIKI COMMONS)
By D.B. WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

When Contra Costa County tax bills went out Nov. 1, Martinez property owners learned something the county’s assessor, Gus Kramer, already knew.

Property values in this city are back at their pre-recession level.

Some parts of Contra Costa County experienced rough times during the recession, Kramer wrote the Board of Supervisors through those years. Although Martinez wasn’t shaken as badly, it saw declines, too, he said.

During the recession, Martinez saw its property values drop 20 to 25 percent, Kramer said. Values hit their lowest point in 2010 and barely bounced above the bottom the next year.

In recent years, property values started their upswing, he said.

“They’re up to what they were before the recession,” he said.  At least 95 percent of Martinez parcels are at that point; some have seen even more improvement, he said.

Each July, Kramer must report to the Board of Supervisors, and those reports tell the story of how the recession impacted Contra Costa County and how the county struggled toward its current economic recovery.

This past year, he was able to tell the Board that the countywide tax base for the 2015-16 year reached more than $12 billion.

“This represents a 7.53 percent increase in assessed value and brings the total assessment roll to more than $171.3 billion. The 2015-16 assessment roll is the highest to date in Contra Costa County’s history,” he wrote.

Cities with the largest increases in assessed value from the prior year include Brentwood at 12.29 percent and El Cerrito at 9.96 percent. Moraga, Hercules and Pittsburg had the lowest assessed value increases. Moraga and Hercules each had a 5.7 percent assessed value increase and Pittsburg had an assessed value increase of 5.48 percent.

“Contra Costa County real estate continues to improve from the recent decline in the economy,” Kramer said in his letter. “The county assessment roll now consists of 367,689 parcels, an increase of 1,059 over the previous year.”

Notably absent from Kramer’s annual reports, however, are any mentions of Martinez. He said there’s a reason for the omission – relative stability.

“Martinez has been the middle of the road,” Kramer said, adding that his annual report focuses more on highs and lows in property assessments. “There haven’t been extremes in any direction in Martinez.”

This city was spared wilder fluctuations experienced by other cities in Contra Costa County because it’s situated along California Highway 4 and Interstate-680, Kramer said.

That puts Martinez in the crossroads between San Francisco and Sacramento, and situates it ideally to be a bedroom community for the region’s metropolitan areas.

However, Kramer said, Martinez also is considered a cul de sac, and it’s hard to get non-governmental major employers interested in moving to the city.

“Costco couldn’t wait to move to Concord. You’re lucky to have Walmart,” he said.

Kramer said the Martinez downtown business district has been struggling since 1959, when the Park’n’Shop shopping center opened on Willow Pass Road in Concord.  “And it won’t get any better until you get some upscale housing,” Kramer said.

However, much of Martinez property already has been developed, the assessor said.

There still is space on Alhambra Hills south of California Highway 4. East of Alhambra Avenue, there is more vacant land, “but it’s steep land,” and would be difficult to develop, he said.

Kramer said he specifically liked the 99-unit housing development once proposed for the land that was home to Pine Meadow Golf Course.

He acknowledged there are those who would prefer the land remain open space or become a park, but explained the years-long delay in development of the project “truly hurts property values,” because prospective home purchasers currently don’t know what’s going to happen to the land.

Elsewhere in the city are slim opportunities for infill construction, he said.

Under California’s Proposition 13 passed in 1978, parcels are reappraised after ownership changes or after new construction is completed. An exception is the transfer of property between spouses, including changes caused by a death, and refinancing doesn’t prompt a new appraisal.

Otherwise, property assessments can’t be increased more than 2 percent each year, based on the California Consumer Price Index. The property tax rate is 1 percent plus any bonds, fees or other special charges that have been approved by voters.

A property owner who believes the assessed value of a parcel is greater than its market value may request a Contra Costa County review.

Meanwhile, the median sale price of a Martinez home between August and November was $474,000, based on numbers gleaned from 150 local home sales reports.

The average price per square foot is $328. That represents an increase of 9.3 percent compared to the same period in 2014, according to information provided by Trulia, a company that tracks and publishes the real estate market and other community statistics.

The company’s statistics show home prices are up by $66,500, and home sales increased 4.2 percent when compared to last year’s sales.

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